Contributed by Lauren Anderson
(Editor's Note: Fellowship is the second highest honor that CSI bestows, recognizing outstanding individuals by elevating members whose efforts on behalf of the Institute's purposes and principles have been exemplary. The qualifications for Fellowship require achievement above and beyond participating in ordinary Institute, region, and chapter events or performing normal duties as an Institute officer. A nominee for Fellowship must have been a member in good standing with the Institute for not less than five years, and have made important contributions in one or more of four categories: advancement of construction technology; improvement of construction specifications; education; or service. The following address was given the morning after the 2017 Investiture of Fellows at a breakfast, where Fellows are encouraged to attend this annual session to address the business issues of the College of Fellows.)
Thank you for having me this morning at the Fellows breakfast. I am honored and humbled to have been asked to speak on behalf of Young Professionals across the country to some of the most esteemed members of CSI. First, I’d just like to personally thank Cherise Lakeside for thinking of me for this presentation. I’d also like to thank Rick Lueb for his guidance and finally, thank the College of Fellows for being supportive of young people all over our organization so we can write the next chapter of CSI history.
Congratulations to the newly inducted Fellows! I hope you enjoyed last night’s awards ceremony and festivities celebrating your incredible accomplishments over many years. Your commitment to CSI is inspiring, and lays the foundation for a stronger association going forward.
Many of you may know me from Twitter, or I might know you by way of Middle Atlantic Region events, but I’d like to start by briefly giving you my background. I am a 2009 graduate of Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. I was on the five-year plan – which I don’t recommend if you want to keep costs down! My time at Marymount was wonderful, but when I ventured off to college at 17, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I bobbed between political science and accounting, finally landing on business management. I felt the pressure of the 2008 economic downturn and felt that if I were to choose something “too specific”, I may not have a job right away out of school. A general business degree felt safe. After interviewing with several Northern Virginia companies for positions I wasn’t overly interested in, I approached my Dad, Paul Conners, one day to discuss the possibility of working for him for a while after graduation to get my feet wet in sales. He graciously offered me an opportunity to work the Richmond/Tidewater market. The following day after graduation, I started visiting with glazing contractors – “thrown to the wolves” if you will. No real training, just brochures in hand visiting new accounts. I’m grateful to this day that the COO of a large contractor glazier in Richmond, recognized my inexperience right away and offered to show me the ropes so I could learn about my products, but better, how I could service glazing contractors as a sales rep. Eventually, my territory expanded to D.C. and I was asked to visit with architects. I knew I wasn’t there to sell products, but I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do with this new role. I promptly joined CSI at the suggestion of a specifier, Robert Tarasovich. More on that next. Six years, one CDT and now President of my chapter, I am only beginning the journey of a lifelong affair with CSI.
My why for CSI has been – well – because a prominent specifier asked me to join. It was somewhat self-serving because I didn’t understand the mission of CSI. My why now can be summed up with this: I need the foundation and knowledge to bring my inexperience to experience. No other association in our industry offers this to product representatives. The support, inclusion and education I was offered immediately upon joining have been invaluable for establishing my career.
So, enough about me. I want to talk with you today about young people.
Young in this case will refer to folks in our industry of all project team roles under thirty-five. We’ve got to pick an age, because, well, the generational gap is wide and we’re missing a fair amount of the mid-level professionals we had in 2008 due to layoffs and recessions which were difficult on many people. It might be difficult for you to remember your early years. If it’s not, you may be remembering it with rose-colored glasses. Let me refresh you.
As a young person, I made a lot of mistakes. [Casey Robb later likened this to Stephen Colbert’s “Midnight Confessions”] I relied on the wrong people for advice. I became a “complaint chameleon” – I complained about industry issues because my peers did the same and I thought that made me look established and knowledgeable. I didn’t dress as professionally as I should have. I didn’t study as hard as I could have for the CDT, and failed the first time. I misspoke and gave bad information to architects, design teams and specifiers. I visited contractors and used my Dad’s name more often than I should have to leverage my opportunities.
I looked at the young folks that stepped across the stage yesterday from Rhode Island School of Design. Proud of their accomplishments so far in higher education, as they should be, but blissfully unaware of how the real world works just yet. They don’t yet know that you have to ask for what you need. They don’t yet know that it’s okay to tell someone “I don’t know”. They don’t yet know that it’s better to listen than to tell people who you are. It’s natural to fail when you’re beginning something new. It’s also frustrating. We can work together to change that.
Because young professionals are considered to be “under 35”, that’s a vast difference between a new graduate who is 21 years old and a person with nearly 15 years of experience at the latter end. My hope is to break these two groups out in some way to explain how each group best learns and how you can help to nurture the next generation.
For those kids – and they are kids – that just graduated from college, they’ve stepped out in the working world, they probably are nervous to start their first job. They’re meeting new colleagues at their company. This is a critical time to scoop them up and get them involved in CSI. Why? Because they haven’t yet decided what their career path is or they may have a goal without an action plan. They need a foundation of networking to meet the people who can help them figure that out. With this age set, you’ll find that you are not learning the way they are learning. These young people are born with technology, as you’ve likely heard many times. This means they are accustomed to “Googling” everything – a real problem in our business. Their attention span is shorter. What may take you several days to learn a new technology concept is taking this age group several minutes. This is not superior, it just means we need to approach them differently. Take time to educate them on what you know or what your expertise is. Don’t tell them what you hate about our business – they’ll develop their own gripes over time. Help them develop what’s interesting to them. With this young group, you’ll want to be encouraging, try to understand why they may like particular apps, websites or ways of learning. Ask questions. They’re too new to contribute something profound yet in a meaningful business discussion, so they will light up when you ask about something they know – themselves.
Practical ways you can help to encourage the postgraduate to maybe around 28 year old segment is to take them for a coffee, invite them personally to CSI and follow up to see if they’re attending. Find a person who seems to have the energy and enthusiasm – even if it is misplaced. Those folks are usually the ones that will run for committees and board positions. Ask them to get involved in a committee, almost as an “apprentice” and show them why it’s important to you to be involved in CSI. When I first called on Robert Tarasovich, the reason I showed up to CSI (not even knowing what CSI was) was because at the time, he asked me to go. It wasn’t because he sold me on the organization, but it was because I was young, Robert was experienced, and with a prominent Washington firm. I was concerned that if I didn’t show up, I’d look bad! Most young people are going to feel the same way at first. They’re trying to navigate living on their own, managing their money for the first time, meeting new people and potentially living in a new city, so it’s critical that you allow them to have those years where they don’t quite “get it”. Eventually, as you continue to mentor them– you’ll find they will begin to morph into the next phase which I call the “reality check” phase.
This phase is made up of those in the 28-35 range. They’re approaching an experience level or number of years in the business. They’ve attended business meetings regularly, they’ve learned to listen (mostly) and they may have a better idea of what they need. This is also the stage where many young people, like myself, are starting their families. This is a delicate and critical stage. In the midst of the adding tremendous personal responsibilities that many 28-35 year-olds face, many are also asking the question, “Where is my career heading and am I on the right path to get there?”. When you’ve lasted a decade in an industry, you get a little bit comfortable, you can contribute some meaningful tidbits in meetings and you are developing into a better listener. These are all wonderful things, but this is an even more important time for experienced mentors to pour into the young professional. Practical ways you can do this include taking them out to lunch, getting to know their families and understanding what their specific interests are so you can help ask the questions that will foster career development.
Great advice I received this past week was to not just know a little bit about a lot of things, but to choose one thing and become an expert in that area. For me personally, I’m not quite sure what that is yet, but at the help of my own mentors, I am asking the right questions and starting to create the framework for the next step of my career. Understand, too, that this stage of life begins to require more of the young professional. When they are involved with CSI, for example, it may become harder for them to commit to events in the evening, or they may feel like they want to step forward and be in a larger role. Allow this YP to choose what’s best for them at this stage, and continually mentor them, even if CSI has become inconvenient.
Finally, I want to close by giving you a quick bulleted list of “must do’s” as a mentor:
I appreciate your willingness to serve the next generation. You have an incredible opportunity to share your experience with the next great architect, specifier, product rep, building owner or contractor.
I’ll leave you with one question: What legacy would you like to leave?
(Editors note: You can read more about CSI Fellowship here)
Let's Fix Construction is an avenue to offer creative solutions, separate myths from facts and erase misconceptions about the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry.
Check out Cherise's latest podcast
Get blog post notifications here